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December 14, 2004

Stars setting the stage at Shrine Bowl practices

Tuesday photo gallery

SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Mother Nature is no match for real football talent. At least not in the Deep South. That was clear in Tuesday's two practice sessions for the North Carolina-South Carolina Shrine Bowl at Wofford College.

Despite freezing temperatures in the high 20s and nasty winds, more than 100 coaches showed up, including many of the top Division I assistants in the nation. Many arrived to protect highly-ranked commitments while most were there to scout and lure away recruits who haven't chosen a school yet.

Nearly 90 players – including over 30 Division I commits – suited up in full pads for a pair of two-hour practices on adjacent fields. Coaches continued to implement new plays, break up into drills by position and supervise light scrimmages – which featured match-ups between many of the top-ranked recruits in the nation.

NORTH CAROLINA SQUAD BIGGER, BETTER?
The Tar Heel State has a noticeable advantage at the skill positions, especially when it comes to the offensive backfield.

Quarterbacks Jonathan Crompton (Tennessee) and Joe Cox (Georgia) were both impressive, each firing deadly accurate passes all day long. The 6-foot-3, 207-pound Crompton quickly showed why he is ranked the No. 2 pro-style signal caller in the nation.

During one sequence of 11-on-11 drills, he rolled right and connected with a receiver, rolled right again and fired a completion to a fullback, stepped back in the shotgun and showed his touch with a well-placed screen pass and then unleashed a bullet to future teammate and receiver Josh Briscoe (Tennessee) on a slant.

Running backs Toney Baker (5-11, 220) and Montario Hardesty (6-0, 195) also stood out. Both have bigger and more muscular frames than some starting D-I tailbacks and each shared carries, showing off the power and speed that makes them among the nation's most sought after recruits. Baker's pass-catching ability – he consistently hauled in passes out of the backfield – may separate him from other top-ranked ball carriers.

The intimidating duo of Baker and Hardesty is one of the main reasons that James Arnold (North Carolina) is getting a chance to display his versatility. The three-star recruit lined up at running back, quarterback, wide receiver and also returned punts.

Mohamed Massaquoi (Georgia) looked like the best receiver on either team. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder has a muscular build and the speed to blow past just about any defensive back.

Some of the more mild surprises included the positioning of monstrous offensive lineman Chris DeGeare (Wake Forest). The 6-foot-4, 335-pounder, the biggest player in the game, was positioned at offensive guard instead of tackle.

Four-star recruit Everette Brown (6-4, 238) lined up at hybrid position of defensive end and linebacker. Instead of getting in a three-point stance, he stood up at one end of the D-line.

Defensively, cornerbacks Brian Dixon (North Carolina), Marquis Melvin (Duke) and Antonio Wardlow (Tennessee) nearly intercepted Crompton, each breaking up deep throws in the process.

Four-star linebacker Derek Nicholson (6-0, 225) disrupted a handful of plays, chasing down Hardesty in the backfield on one play. Linebacker Eric Ludwig (6-1, 245) was one of the most intimidating players on the defensive side of the ball.

SPEED, SKILL KILLS FOR SOUTH CAROLINA
Most of the coaches were crowded around this team, which has nearly two dozen uncommitted D-I prospects. Their biggest strength appears to be at receiver, where Jesse Jackson, Eric Huggins (Oklahoma), Reynaldo Hunter and Terrance Smith each took turns making impressive catches during 7-on-7 drills.

Smith out leapt two defenders, including highly-touted safety C.J. Byrd (Georgia) to reel in a pass on a deep post pattern.

In less than a two-minute span, Huggins made a tough catch over the middle, held onto a bomb with a defender draped all over his lower body and then burnt a cornerback to snag another deep throw.

Huggins' hands and speed aren't questioned, but he will need to improve physically in the weight room before he's ready to dominate in the always physical Big 12. But the tools are definitely there for him to make a big splash.

Four-star funning back Mike Davis (5-11, 212) is built low to the ground and his quick cuts caused a handful of defenders to stumble and miss tackles. Josh Miller (6-1, 218) hasn't garnered the amount of attention Davis has, but more schools are showing interest.

Jordan Sorrells (6-2, 200) appears to be the favorite for the starting quarterback job. The left-hander got into rhythm in the second session and fired a series of accurate throws.

Defensive end Nathan Pepper (South Carolina) was one of the most impressive D-lineman on either team. The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder appears to have grown in recent months and his athleticism makes him a force.

Defensive backs Jamie Robinson (6-2, 185) and Hadrian Lewis (6-0, 180) also had strong performances and continue to prove they are two of the top players in the Palmetto State.

SCHOOLS REPRESENTIN'
Schools that sent multiple coaches to Tuesday's practices included: Clemson, East Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wake Forest.

Schools that sent one coach include – Akron, Alabama, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech.

This also doesn't account for the teams that had coaches there at Monday's drills, which included national powers like Michigan, Ohio State and Oklahoma.

The North Carolina-South Carolina Shrine Bowl is an annual all-star game that pits the top seniors from both states. The game will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday. Rivals.com will continue to bring you coverage of practices and events leading up to the game.



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